The Scarborough Budget Flim Flam of 2018

Well, friends, there’s probably one thing we can all agree on – it’s never boring in Scarborough! 

The May 8 School Board recall election has come and gone.  And in a few days, those three School Board members will be gone, too.   The margin favoring the recall was overwhelming… nearly two to one.  Perhaps that margin shouldn’t have been a surprise, though.

While most of the voters undoubtedly focused on the specific school issues in casting their votes, we are quite certain that a significant number of folks were actually voting on town and school leadership in generalThey’re not happy with it. 

And when the Town Council arranged the shotgun recall election, folks really got their dander up.  If they were capable of introspection, perhaps this would be a good time for the Town Council members to step back and reevaluate the way they conduct the public’s business.  The current approach isn’t working out too well – as demonstrated by the lopsided recall margin.

And now on to the new issue of the day…

Well, it’s May so it must be time for a budget battle in Scarborough.  In fact, if there weren’t some sort of budget ruckus, you might think you had somehow moved to Buxton or Kennebunkport without realizing it. 

But the budget discussion is a bit different this year than in the past.  Yes, Town leaders have come up with a brand new way of fleecing the taxpayers!

This new method is more subtle than the usual approach, so some brief background information is needed.  [You can skip the next 4 paragraphs if the arithmetic doesn’t matter to you.]

1.   You may remember that in January the Town Council set a goal of achieving a tax rate increase of less than 3% this year.  Let’s assume for a minute that less than 3% was a reasonable goal for the coming year’s tax rate increase, especially in light of the recent tumult in town.

2.   This spring, the Town Council announced that the Town’s commercial/industrial properties would be reassessed in time for next year’s property taxes.  It turns out that those properties have been severely under-assessed for several years now.  Apparently at less than 70% of their actual value.  Which means that we residential property owners have been picking up more than our fair share of the real estate tax burden for a few years.  And should get tax relief from the revaluation.

3.   The revaluation of the commercial properties will add a significant amount – perhaps $100 million to $166 million or more – to the Town’s tax base of just over $3 billion.  When you increase the tax base while keeping the amount of taxes raised constant, you automatically reduce the tax rate.   The commercial revaluation significantly reduces the overall tax rate.

4.   So here’s the grift:  When you do a revaluation, it is supposed to be “revenue neutral.”  That means that the reduction in the tax rate should NOT be used to offset additional municipal/school spending.  The full impact of the revaluation should be used to reduce the tax rate.  And guess what the Council is doing in the Fiscal 2019 budget?  That’s right, you have correctly guessed that town leaders are using a good portion of the tax rate reduction to do what they’re not supposed to – funding  spending over and above the level of their original 3% goal.  Illegal?  No.  Sound financial policy? Nope.  Deceptive? Totally!

 


So what’s the bottom line impact here?

TAKE-AWAY #1The total net budget – i.e., total taxes to be raised – is up 5.6% compared to last year as shown here.

 That sort of increase in total taxes raised doesn’t exactly indicate fiscal restraint, does it?

TAKE-AWAY #2 The commercial property revaluation has a huge impact on the final tax rate.

If the full impact of the commercial revaluation were used to reduce the tax rate increase, it would reduce the rate by more than 4%.   So a tax rate increase that would have been 3% without the revaluation would actually produce a 1% decrease in the tax rate with the revaluation. 

TAKE-AWAY #3 The Town Council missed their goal of a less than 3% tax rate increase when you exclude the impact of the commercial revaluation… which you should.

The budget being presented on Wednesday evening includes a 4.4% tax rate increase before allowing for the revaluation impact.  The revaluation impact was not a factor when the Town Council set its tax rate increase goal of less than 3%.  Therefore, the proposed budget misses the Council’s goal by 1.4%.  Please, no back-patting and self-congratulations!  (Save that for over at O’Reilly’s if you must.)

TAKE-AWAY #4 – The proposed tax rate increase of 1.4% is actually nearly 2% higher than it should be if the Council had adhered to its original goal of less than a 3% increase.   

In the proposed budget, our taxes are estimated to increase by 1.4%   But if the amount of taxes raised to achieve the 3% goal had been met, the tax rate would have actually gone down by .5%.  The difference between the two tax rates is 1.9%   So the proposed budget is using a 1.9% increase in the tax rate to pay for expenditures over and above the originally set 3% tax rate increase target. 

Yes, a 1.4% tax rate increase is nice.  But if sticky fingers weren’t involve, the tax rate should actually have GONE DOWN one-half a percent.


The coyness factor…  or why we all should be fuming, infuriated and outraged… again

Budget cuts? What budget cuts?

All the recent hoopla about reducing the town and school budgets by $750,000 to get to the promised 3% goal was all an unnecessary farce.  Designed, apparently, to create community discord.  Town leaders knew from the start that they were going to have no trouble coming up with a tax rate increase of 1% to 2% (or less) while at the same time comfortably increasing town and school spending. 

Then why did we just go through the recent budget charade that raised the specter of eliminating ten teachers or ten municipal workers?  It was all theater.  Unpleasant theater at that.  And they wonder why there is such a high level of mistrust of town and school leaders. 

Even if you’re fine with the end result of this budget, are you happy with the way it was accomplished – with a complete lack of transparency or public disclosure of what was really happening?  Unfortunately, that’s “the Scarborough way.”  Remember this when it’s time to vote in November… or perhaps sooner.

So when that highly predictable wave of self-congratulations and back patting washes over the Council Chamber Wednesday evening, please resist the urge to stand and applaud.  And do not tear up when the tales of how hard the Council worked are told.  The hardest work they did was keeping the public in the dark about the true impact of the commercial revaluation until it leaked out this late in the budget process.  Why can’t they ever provide the public with the full story?

 


In view of recent developments, we thought this would be a good time to check in with LookOutScarborough’s official prognosticator, Swami Bob.   Here are his predictions:

First, at this coming Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, one Councilor will wag her finger at the assembled multitude and lecture them thusly: “Jeepers, aren’t you tax people ever happy?!” [Answer: We would have been very happy if the Council had done what they said they were going to do, on an honest and above-board basis.]

Second, next year’s revaluation of the Town’s residential properties (all our homes) will provide the exact same opportunity for budget sleight-of-hand all over again. More importantly, some large number of Scarborough homeowners are likely to see significant increases in their tax bills when the residential revaluation occurs.  It would have been nice to have had all of this year’s rate decrease to cushion the blow.

Third, the infamous letter about a School Department staff meeting gone horribly awry at a prominent Old Port establishment will become public soon. This will add a new plot line to the soap opera, “As the Scarborough School Department Turns.”

[Editor’s note: Longtime readers will recall that Madame Alakazam has been our go-to prognosticator from the beginning.  She recently communicated to us (by letter, not psychic means) that she has retired to West Palm Beach and sold her practice on the OOB Pier to Swami Bob, a fully-licensed and highly-experienced seer and medium.   We have seen samples of his work and are convinced we are in good hands going onto the future, as it were.  The Swami is offering a pre-season special of 40% off simple predictions to LookOutScarborough readers through May 31.]

 


Well, that’s all for now.  More excitement is sure to follow.  And probably sooner rather than later the way things are going these days.  Thanks for reading and sharing this blog.   I sincerely appreciate the many supportive comments. (And the others, too.  They help sharpen the issues.)

Happy trails until we meet again!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah


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Scarborough’s Stealth Recall Election… Your Vote Needed!

As we predicted in our last blog post, the Town Council bulled ahead with a schedule for the recall election that is designed to minimize voter turnout and thereby cause the election to fail the minimum vote threshold specified in the Town charter.  Two Council members, Foley and Hayes, opposed this blatant attempt at voter suppression which is designed to protect the three School Board members who are facing recall on May 8.

First things first!

Before we once again mount our soap box and get carried away with exposing the slimy underbelly of current Town governance, here are the two take-aways from this blog:

1. Vote YES at the May 8 recall election and

2.  Do it sooner rather than later since we are dealing with a cynically-short early voting period.

Here’s the voting schedule:

If you take care of steps 1 & 2 above, you are excused from reading the rest of this blog.  And you have earned our sincere thanks.


Why ALL Scarborough residents should vote in this recall election

[Please bear with us for four paragraphs of serious stuff…]

Since the specific issues that propelled this recall effort are school-related, some have wondered why they should care about it and vote.  After all, unless you have kids in the Scarborough schools, you probably don’t have a direct link to or interest in the schools.

But step back and consider the flood of negative publicity about the Town that has accompanied all the numerous school controversies.  The pattern of mismanagement of the schools over the past year has rocked not only the schools but the entire community.  The failed leadership of the School Board is at the root of all this bad press.  All Town residents have a stake in the community’s reputation.  A YES vote will begin the process of bringing effective leadership to the School Board and restoring the Town’s reputation.

And the failure of leadership extends to the Town Council.   A majority of Town Council members are on record as opposing the recall effort.  Their unscrupulous scheduling of the recall election was a blatant and cynical attempt to cause the citizen-initiated recall process to fail.  Indeed, many Council members share the same characteristics that are at the heart of the School Board recall – arrogance, lack of transparency and unresponsiveness to community needs.   All Town residents have a stake in principled and responsive government.   A YES vote will remind some of the Councilors that their responsibility is to the broad community, not to their personal agendas.

Many citizens have lost trust in Town and School leaders.   All Town residents have a stake in having officials whom they trust to do the right thing in the best interests of the community as a whole.   A YES vote will let them know they need to work hard on regaining the public’s trust.

And now back to our regular programming…


Seeing is believing

The special Town Council meeting held on April 25 gave the three School Board members who are facing recall the opportunity to state their cases.  It was a long five hours.  But, as one would expect, there were a couple of moments for the highlights reel…

The first came very early in the proceedings as School Board Chair Donna Beeley called Steven Bailey, the Executive Director of the Maine School Boards Association, as an expert witness of sorts.  Mr. Bailey educated the assembled multitude on the finer points of Maine law as it relates to school boards. 

The gist of his presentation – school board members aren’t answerable to the public according to Maine law.  We’ve heard this refrain from our School Board members for years now.  Indeed, it is the reliance on this notion – and the arrogance it enables – that explains the frequent disconnects between the School Board and the public.

So, just to kick sand in the face of the public, the School Board trots out a legalistic defense of its actions.  Way to sway public opinion, guys!  This is what happens when lawyers are running the show.


Seeing is believing – Episode 2

You can always depend on Jackie Perry to liven things up.  She came through again big time last Wednesday evening.  Here’s an excerpt from her remarkable speech on the Creech affair: 

“And if you’re going to recall them, recall me… I said ‘Lock him out.  Send him home.  Put in an interim principal and do it now because we don’t need what’s coming down the road.’  And our lawyer said ‘Jackie, you can’t do that.’   I said: ‘We’ll pay whatever it takes.  Let him sue.  But get him out of town.’   I said that.  Nobody else on the Board said that.  Come after me!”

In about a minute, she:

  • Divulged confidential details of a personnel matter, apparently from a School Board executive session meeting.
  • Demonstrated her usual level of fiscal prudence, i.e., “pay whatever it takes.”
  • Exhibited statesmanship and grace by urging voters to “come after me!” (If there were a write-in option on the recall, we bet a bunch of voters would take her up on this.  But please don’t write her name in on your ballot!  If you do, it will be disqualified.)

Here’s a link to the snippet from the Council meeting.


Coming soon to a polling place near you?


Well, that’s all for now, folks. 

Please remember to vote.  Later today would be good, tomorrow at the latest. 

This is not just a school matter.  This is a community matter.   Some members of the Town Council don’t want you to vote.   Please make sure you let them know that this is not the way you want Scarborough to work.

Please vote YES on or before May 8 to start the Town on a new course of transparency, fairness and responsiveness.

Until next time, be neighborly,

TT Hannah


DISCLAIMER:  The author is solely responsible for the contents of this blog.  Opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not of any other individual(s) or group. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Fast One from the Scarborough Town Council

Expect a loud whooshing sound to come from Town Hall when the Council meets Wednesday night.  Nothing to be alarmed at… it will just be the Council pulling another fast one on the citizens of Scarborough.  The fast one this time is the scheduling of the School Board recall vote on May 8 – a highly accelerated schedule that will effectively reduce the number of folks who will vote in the election. 

Again, do not be alarmed!  It’s just business as usual in Donovan-land, where personal agendas and autocratic rule replace transparency, fairness and responsive government.

The Hurry-Up Election on May 8

So here’s the short version of the story behind the special hurry-up election they’ll be scheduling for May 8.  Chairman Donovan and his cronies are deeply offended that more than 3,000 of their fellow citizens had the audacity to sign recall petitions for three School Board members. And the Donovan faction will do anything in their power to prevent the recall from succeeding.

The Town Charter requires that 3,147 total votes will have to be cast in the recall election for it to be valid.  In other words, if the vote were to be 2,500 to zero to recall the School Board members, the vote would still fail because the total number of votes cast was not large enough, and the three School Board members would continue to serve.  So it’s clearly in the interests of the School Board recallees and their supporters to keep the vote total as low as possible so that the 3,147 total vote threshold will not be met.  That is the only goal of the Donovan strategy.

What’s a great way to minimize voter turnout?  Well, have an election with as little lead time as possible.  Make sure there’s as little public notice as possible.  Minimize the period of early/absentee voting.  You get the picture.  Some might even be tempted to characterize these tactics as “voter suppression.”


The Nuts and Bolts of (Legal) Voter Suppression

Image courtesy United Steel Workers.

 

Here are some important facts about the May 8 recall vote:

  • Minimal Public Notice of the Vote Date

Since the Town Council’s Wednesday evening vote to set the election date will come after the deadline for Friday’s edition of The Leader, the May 8 vote date won’t be reported in The Leader until Friday, May 4just 4 days before the election.  Not much notice, is it?  And no time for concerned citizens to submit letters to the editor in The Leader before the election.

  • Almost Non-existent Early/Absentee Voting

By our calculation (which is the best you’re going to get since there’s nothing on the Town website about it), there will be only 7 days of early/absentee voting — that’s 5 days shorter than any other election we can remember.  Historically, about 30% of total votes are cast as early/absentee ballots in Scarborough.  And even worse, given The Leader’s deadline cited above, the early (“no reason needed”) voting period will be over by the time the election is announced in the May 4 issue of The Leader.  Do you feel like you’re being played yet?

  • Inconsistent with Past Practice

In an April 20 memo to Members of the Town Council, Chairman Donovan noted that “May 8 complies with the Charter provisions and is consistent with our practice in scheduling special elections such as School Budget Referendum votes.” [Emphasis added.]  Well, Chairman Donovan, not exactly.  If you’ll look back at last year’s three school budget referendum votes, you’ll see that the number of days between second reading and the date of the vote were 27, 20 and 20The May 8 date, however, is only 13 days after the April 25 setting of the vote date – a full week earlier than recent past practice.  

Indeed, there was such a public outcry at the short timeframe between second reading and the proposed date of the vote on last year’s second school budget referendum that the Town Council adjusted the period between second reading and vote to 20 days from the originally proposed 13.   How soon we forget!  Or, alternatively, how we fail to learn from our mistakes!

[Chairman Donovan’s memo outlining the setting of the May 8 election date appears as page 7 of the Town Council agenda for the April 25 meeting – link here.  See if you are persuaded that this election has to be held so fast that your teeth will rattle.  We weren’t.]


Sorry, Town Council Meeting Sold Out!

Chairman Donovan has been on a memo-writing roll these last few days.  In another memo posted with the agenda for the April 25 Town Council meeting, he explained the reasoning behind selecting the venue for that meeting, for which a substantial crowd is predicted.

Here’s a chance to test your political acumen!

You need to select a location for a Town Council meeting.  The facts are:

  1. The Town Council Chamber has a maximum capacity of 130.
  2. The Wentworth cafeteria/auditorium has readily accommodated 300-400 for a recent School Board meeting.
  3. The expected attendance for the April 25 Town Council meeting is more than 200.

The question:  Where do you hold the meeting?

Option A:

Hold the meeting in the Town Council Chambers and turn away everybody in excess of 130, telling them to go home and watch it on cable and submit any public comments they may have in writing.  (Pound sand, in other words.)

Option B:

Move the meeting to Wentworth where all interested citizens can view the proceedings in person and provide their public comments in, well, public.

How did you do?

If you selected Option A, congratulations!  You and Chairman Donovan are on the same wavelength.  We foresee a long and brilliant career in Scarborough politics for you.

If you selected Option B, well, sorry about that.  Your willingness to consider the needs of the broader Scarborough community is laudable, but, alas, inconsistent with the Council’s values of exclusion and opaqueness.

[Chairman Donovan’s memo outlining this decision appears as page 2 of the Town Council agenda for the April 25 meeting – link here.  See it for yourself.  And don’t miss the line about promoting “the solemnity of the proceedings.”   Get out your ermine robe and powdered wig!  Good stuff!]


A finer point…

Be sure to listen carefully to the explanations given – if any – for the absence of any Town Councilors from Wednesday evening’s meeting.  Remember, this will be an important meeting, especially for anyone with aspirations for higher elected office.  Watch closely!


About “The Letter”

One of most intriguing elements that has been added to the Scarborough School Saga recently is the existence of an anonymous letter which, according to Scarborough police “contains allegations of inappropriate behavior on the part of the superintendent, which the Board of Education has reviewed and deemed to be demonstrably false.”  [Emphasis added.]  The only other information we have heard about the letter is by way of one member of the public commenting at the April 11 Town Council meeting.  That individual stated that the letter contained colorful references to the superintendent’s activity at an Old Port establishment.  We have no way of knowing whether the individual had actually seen the letter or not, or was accurately reporting its content.

Which really gets to the heart of the matter.  Apparently copies of the letter went to several School Board members, the town manager and Superintendent Kukenberger’s husband.  Why hasn’t the letter been made public?  Shouldn’t the public be allowed to judge for itself whether the alleged “inappropriate behavior” is “demonstrably false?”   Or whether the letter was “threatening?”  No offense, School Board members, but your credibility in the community isn’t exactly at a high point, and we would like to form our own opinions.


What to do now…

Usually when we come up against outrageous behavior by the Town Council (or a majority thereof), we encourage you to speak up and let them know how displeased you are with whatever they’ve done.  Not this time, though.  It would be a waste of perfectly good keystrokes.  Nothing is going to stop Mr. Donovan and his cronies from ramming this election through without adequate public notice.  Defeating the recall is just too important for them.  It’s a do-or-die issue.  If the recall succeeds, their grip on Town affairs will have been successfully challenged.  And that could be the beginning of the end of their chokehold on Town affairs.

So the only way to influence the future now is by voting at the recall election on May 8. 

If you think the three School Board members (Beeley, Shea and Lyford) should be recalled, vote YES.  That’s a vote for change.

If you think they should remain in office, vote NO.  That’s a vote that says you want more of what we’ve had for the last two years.

Whatever your opinion, please vote on May 8!  Or during the limited early voting period that runs from April 26 through May 3.  (Please confirm the early voting period at the Town website.  Hopefully the information will be there before the voting is over.)


Well, that’s all for now folks.  Please spread the word.  Let’s beat them at their own game.  And remember to do an early vote at Town Hall starting Thursday, April 26.

Happy trails until we meet again.

Be neighborly!

TT Hannah


CORRECTION: The original version of this blog stated that the 3,147 total vote threshold for the recall election to be valid is a function of State law.  As a knowledgeable reader pointed out, the threshold is actually a function of the Town Charter.  We regret the error.


RECALL!

If enough signatures are collected in the next week, three members of the Scarborough School Board will face a recall election within the next couple months.  Not since 2013 — when aggrieved dog owners led the successful overturn of an overly-broad animal control ordinance — have Town residents risen up like this against elected officials.

As outlined in the last blog entry, there have been three identifiable causes:

  • Major adjustments to the start time of the school day for most kids.
  • Adoption of a revised grading system that many see as detrimental to students’ college admission prospects.
  • Forced resignation of the immensely popular high school principal.

While these have been the specific reasons articulated for the recall, the broader issues seem to be a general dissatisfaction with Superintendent Kukenberger’s management approach and the School Board’s unwillingness to respond to community concerns about that.  For long periods, the Board went underground, only to pop up infrequently to say that “the lawyers” wouldn’t let them say anything.  And the frustration of many parents finally boiled over into the recall effort.

After the recall was initiated, the Superintendent and School Board relented somewhat on a couple of the issues.  But the damage was done and confidence was lost.  Once lost, it doesn’t return.

Why is it important for all Scarborough residents to be concerned with the current meltdown of the schools?  Well, remember that 68% of your tax dollars are spent on the schools.  So having  transparent, responsive and effective school administration and governance is kind of important.  If the current Superintendent and School Board are unable to keep the basic operation of the schools on an even keel, do we really want to trust them with $42.5 million of our tax dollars?


Your Help Is Needed Now!

There’s about a week left in the signature-gathering period for the recall effort.  About 2,600 signatures need to be gathered by March 26 in order to trigger the recall election.  It looks like it will be close.  So the recall supporters need your help now!

Here’s how you can sign the recall petition:

  • Sign the petition in front of Town Hall between 9am and 4pm every day.
  • Sign the petition at The Study Hall at 27 Gorham Road on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon between 1:00 pm and 6:30 pm. (Phone 883-9707.)
  • Get signing information on FaceBook at Road to Renewal.
  • Send an email to Road2Renewal@gmail.com to make other arrangements… including “we’ll-bring-the-petition-to-you.” Now that’s what we call service!

    Is Superintendent Kukenberger bruschetta?

    We believe that Julie Kukenberger is a very intelligent and caring individual.  And she’s motivated by what she believes is best for the kids of Scarborough.  She is also a committed social justice warrior, perhaps a three-star general in the Social Justice Army (SJA). 

    Not that there’s anything wrong with social justice advocacy.  It’s just that often these social justice warriors are so certain of their views that they think nothing of imposing them on others in the community.  There can be a “my way or the highway” attitude due to the warrior’s moral certitude of his or her position.  Perhaps that’s just the attitude that caused the grading system, start time and principal dismissal issues – a failure to adequately consider the views of the community on these controversies.

    Speaking of community views:  It has been widely reported that Scarborough High School teachers indicated no-confidence in Superintendent Kukenberger by a vote 83 to 1.  It has also been reported that the reason the Superintendent gave High School Principal Creech for the non-renewal of his contract was that he was “no longer a good fit” in the school district.  Wait a minute… the Superintendent has 83 of 84 high school teachers indicating no confidence in her and yet Principal Creech “isn’t a good fit?”   Reality check: who’s really not a good fit?   

    If the shoe fits…  Or, perhaps in this case, if the shoe doesn’t fit…


Front page news… not

We freely concede we know nothing about the newspaper biz.  But after reading newspapers for a few years, some of the basic conventions sort of become apparent to even the most casual reader.  One of those basic conventions – put the important stuff (or, “the lead story,” as Clark Kent would have called it) on the front page.

Leave it to our beloved Scarborough Leader, however, to flaunt convention.  The recall of three School Board members is arguably the biggest local story of the last five years.  And yet the front page of last Friday’s paper had an article about evolving storm water regulations above the fold and a human interest story filling out the rest of the front page.  The recall story was on page twoIt’s almost like someone didn’t want to call attention to the story, isn’t it?

 


Jimmy:  But Clark, why did Mr. White put your story about the $3 million bank robbery on page 2?

Clark:  Well, Jimmy, that cat rescue story you did was great.  It deserved to be on the front page!


Well, that’s all for now folks.  Please consider signing the recall petition.  Think of it as a wake-up call for all of our elected officials  — including several Town Council members.   Remind them that what the public thinks does indeed matter.

Happy trails until we meet again.

Be neighborly!

TT Hannah


Scarborough Schools Meltdown Continues…

“No Comment” mode

More on the Creech Breach

What is the School Board doing?

Impact on High School Accreditation?


It’s been more than a week now since the School Board meeting at which residents blasted the new school start times and the announcement the following day of the “resignation” of High School Principal Creech.  Here’s an update on the current situation and some important additional background information that has come to light.

The School Department and School Board are in radio silence mode.  It’s “no comment” to every question.  Probably on the advice of lawyers.  But that gives school leadership a great excuse to do what they are best at doing – not communicating with the public.  And we must say they’re doing a bang-up job of it.  Plus, don’t you love it when lawyers are running the show?  That always creates an environment conducive to cooperation and reconciliation.


More on the Creech Breach…

The circumstances surrounding why Principal Creech was offered the resign-or-be-fired option by Superintendent Kukenberger have not been clear.  While they remain unclear, a fuller picture is beginning to emerge.  It’s possible that “philosophical differences” or perhaps “style differences” may have arisen between Creech and Kukenberger soon after her hiring as superintendent in July, 2016. 

Creech applied for and was a finalist for the high school principal’s job in Falmouth in the summer of 2017.  Which means he applied for that job within about a year of Kukenberger’s arrival.  Perhaps that was merely a coincidence.  Or perhaps not. 

One definite source of recent tension between the principal and the superintendent was a disagreement on the proposed implementation of a “standards-based” grading system.  Here’s our two-paragraph layman’s summary of the issue:

Scarborough schools are engaged in a multi-year project to implement “proficiency-based education,” a State-mandated system of instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting.  (God bless the teachers!)  Part of that mandate is to implement a new “standards-based” grading system. 

The group of high school teachers who were asked to make recommendations for the new grading system wanted to maintain the traditional 0 to 100% grading scale, along with introducing the new 4-point “standards-based” scale (basically: exceeds, meets, partially meets or does not meet expectations).  They reasoned that the traditional scale should be retained in order to provide colleges with more comprehensive student grades.  They argued that not retaining it would put Scarborough High students at a significant competitive disadvantage in college admissionsKukenberger apparently wanted to ditch the traditional grading system altogether.  Creech sided with the teachers, and as a result he was given the resign-or-be-fired choice.

We obviously weren’t there, but the letter to the Superintendent from the teachers who were working on the grading system suggests that the above account is fairly accurate.  [Readers who may have more direct knowledge of what occurred are encouraged to share any insights by using the “Reply” function at the top of this page.]


So what’s the School Board doing?

As we mentioned, it’s been more than a week now since the noisy School Board meeting and the Creech “resignation” announcement.  So has the School Board swung into action to address the crisis of public confidence?  Have they held an emergency meeting – either in public or in executive session?  Apparently not.  There’s certainly been nothing about a meeting (or any sort of communication about the current situation) on the Board’s website or the online School Department calendar.  Oh, well, there’s a regularly scheduled School Board meeting coming up on Thursday, March 1.  What’s the big rush anyway?  At this point you have to wonder if they’ll even discuss the situation then…  (Can’t you hear it now: “On the advice of our attorney, we will not be discussing any of the issues the public cares about.”)

Some School Board members have apparently been left more or less in the dark about what’s happening.  It must have been a rude awakening for new members of the School Board to observe the lack of public information and the appearance of institutional paralysis.

The Brazilian three-banded armadillo rolled into a defensive ball.

As part of their armadillo strategy, the School Board has also declined to meet with a group of High School teachers to discuss the forcing out of Principal Creech.  That would have to be done through the teachers’ union, said the School Board chair.  Ahh, communications and transparency!  Not to mention, flexibility!

We should note that despite the ongoing meltdown, the current edition of the Scarborough Board of Education Newsletter came out a few days ago.  Lots of stories about the great things the kids in the schools are doing.  But not a word about what the adults are up to.  Frankly, it’s the adults we’re concerned about these days.


NEASC Accreditation of the High School

Timing is everything, as the saying goes.  And one of the very unfortunate aspects of the timing of the current meltdown of school administration and governance is that the High School is right in the middle of its reaccreditation by NEASC, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.  This is a once-every-ten-years event that is supposed to certify that the high school is up to snuff.  It’s sort of a basic seal of approval that many colleges look to as they evaluate the students they will admit from a school.

As High School principal, Principal Creech is the point person for the accreditation process.  Fortunately, the on-site visit part of the evaluation has already taken place.  Now they’re drafting the report of findings.  One can only wonder what the evaluators from NEASC will make of the current messy management/governance meltdown.   The evaluation focuses on seven areas, one of which is “School Leadership and Culture.”  We hope NEASC will put one of their most diplomatic writers on that section of the Scarborough report.  Look for the report this spring… unless NEASC decides it would just be too embarrassing to have to address this issue in its current state of discomposure.


A recall in the offing?

There has been some scuttlebutt about potentially recalling one or more of the School Board members.  This is not an easy process, nor one that should be undertaken lightly.  The reality is that about 2,600 signatures would have to be collected within a 20-day window to have a recall election.  (The exact number of signatures required is 25% of the number of Scarborough residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.)  Given the School Board’s handling of this situation so far, a recall effort doesn’t seem at all far-fetched.


A rally in support of Principal Creech is scheduled for 7am on Monday, February 26, at Town Hall. 

To avoid delays, drivers who use Route 1 in the Town Hall area should find an alternative route.  Of course, there is no alternative route, so just bring along an extra granola bar, bagel or donut and enjoy the show!


Thank you!

 Our sincere thanks to you for reading this blog.  And a special thank you to all those who have reached out with information or encouragement.  Both are greatly appreciated!


That’s it for now.  Happy trails until we meet again!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah


Winds of Change Shake Scarborough Schools

Special Report on the School Start-time Controversy

 “No confidence”

School Board recall?

Strong teacher opposition

H.S. principal forced to resign


There has been a deep division in the Scarborough school community about the new school start times for more than a year.  The issue has been simmering on high for many months.  But it roared to a full boil this past Thursday and Friday.  At an unusually well-attended School Board meeting on Thursday evening, parents voiced strong opinions on the adjusted school start times that are scheduled to go into effect in September.   [If you are not familiar with the issue, please see the details at “Start-Time Issue in a Nutshell” below.]

The Board of Education meeting on February 15. Usually, they’re lucky if the audience is more than 2 people.

Most of the parents spoke against the changes, often in strong terms.  Some parents indicated a lack of confidence in the school administration and the School Board.  Some parents are apparently seriously considering launching a recall vote for members of the School Board.  And as of this writing, more than 960 individuals have signed an online petition asking the School Board to reevaluate the new start-time schedule (link here)


Teachers oppose new policy

Perhaps the most striking part of the School Board meeting was the president of the teachers’ union reading a letter that stated that more than 100 teachers and other professionals attended a recent special meeting about the start-time change and voted “overwhelmingly” against it.  This sort of division within the school system can’t be a healthy sign.


High School Principal Gets the Heave-ho

One would have thought that it would be impossible for the school administrative regime to outdo themselves after the Thursday evening School Board meeting.  But you have forgotten – this is Scarborough, a different kind of town.  So less than 24 hours after the meeting, the news broke that High School Principal David Creech had been asked to resign.

Now we have only a nodding acquaintance with Mr. Creech, mostly through seeing him at School Board meetings where he made presentations on various topics over the past few years.  The impressions from those encounters were uniformly favorable.  And his reputation appears to have been a highly favorable one, as a caring, effective and well-liked leader.  But perhaps he had not been supportive enough of the start-time change.  Or ran afoul of the administration in some other manner.  We freely admit that we don’t know what happened.  Perhaps we never will.  But we do know that the forced resignation of Mr. Creech poured gasoline on a fire that was already well-established.

There’s a separate online petition calling for the School Board not to accept Mr. Creech’s resignation (link here).  As of this writing, more than 1,250 folks have signed that one.  For a frame of reference, there are about 960 students at the High School.

Frankly, we were astounded by this decision at this particular time.  Who made the decision?  Who reviewed and approved it?  Was there a complete lack of situational awareness?


The start-time issue in a nutshell…

For those of you who do not have a child in the Scarborough schools, here’s the issue in a nutshell…  School hours are being adjusted as shown in this table as of this coming September:

 

Remember that the times above are school start and end times.  They do not include bus rides on either end; that can be up to 50 minutes in each direction.

In summary, the youngest kids’ school day will start almost an hour earlier than it currently does, while the high school kids will start an hour and fifteen minutes later than they do now.

The main impetus for the change was the science that says high school kids need more sleep in the morning.  (Let’s face it, “science” isn’t what it was in the good old days when Mr. Wizard showed you how to mix a bunch of match heads with ammonia to create an awesome stink bomb.)

But many parents are objecting to the practical implications of the change, like having to make different and longer daycare arrangements, having later times for sports and other extracurricular activities and interfering with after-school work schedules.  Not to mention the impact on the youngest kids of having to be in school nearly an hour earlier.  Which means waiting for the bus before sunrise for some of the wee ones.   And some parents have noted that these K-2 kids are the ones who need the most sleep — yet their days will begin nearly an hour earlier than they do now.

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While later start times have been implemented in several southern Maine communities, Scarborough’s version is apparently more extreme than any of the others.

 

Underlying the discussion of the facts and opinions is a basic trust issue.  Parents have cited a lack of transparency, broken promises and an unwillingness to compromise by the school administration and School Board.  It’s the old classic: “thanks for your input, but we know better” attitude.   That’s a sentiment that instantly rings true for anyone who has even a casual acquaintance with Scarborough’s past track record of local governance.


 

 

 

 

About the media coverage of the recent developments: 

The Portland Press Herald finally posted an online story about the tension in the Scarborough school community at 2:14pm on Sunday, three days after the School Board meeting and 48 hours after the announcement of Mr. Creech’s resignation.  They were probably forced into it by television coverage of the Creech matter.  Their willingness to leave the story alone until forced into it is consistent with the paper’s long, cozy relationship with school administration.  Keep that bias in mind as you read PPH stories.

And then there’s the Scarborough Leader, whose news delivery model is quaintly embalmed in the 1950s.  That model assures that news occurring on Thursday, February 15, won’t reach your mailbox until eight days later, on Friday, February 23.  Really, guys, have you given any thought to online updates of “breaking news?”


Coming up next…

A first look at the Scarborough Downs development.  What does it mean for Scarborough?  At what point does the Scarborough we know and love become an entirely different place?   Big growth.  Big implications.  Big questions.  Stay tuned.  And be prepared to THINK BIG!


That’s all for now, folks.   Happy trails until we meet again.

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah

 

Assessing Scarborough’s Assessing Fiasco… how much will it cost YOU?

Happy New Year, Friends and Neighbors! 

We’re going to start the year off with some fireworks courtesy of Scarborough’s Assessing Department.   Now before your eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the Assessing Department, be assured that this little tale is worth listening to.  In fact, so far it has cost more than $800,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars.  And another million bucks could easily follow them out of our collective tax-paying pockets in the near future.

This all has to do with a fairly complex and messy legal battle, but it’s our job to boil down the complicated stuff and leave you with the essence of it… which may make your hair stand on end.

Here’s the four-sentence summary of the current legal mess:  For many years, Scarborough’s tax assessor would sometimes reduce the assessed value on an empty lot a homeowner had that was adjacent to the lot with his or her home on it.  This practice was not publicized or “official,” but was available if you knew about it.  So if you happened to know about the discount “program” and you asked for it, you might get a nice reduction on the value of that vacant lot you owned next to your main property.  It was particularly valuable to homeowners of shorefront or “water-influenced” property, since getting a 40-70% reduction on the land value of an abutting $1 million undeveloped lot would produce a significant real estate tax savings.

(Note: this offer has expired!)

The trouble with this is… it’s illegal.  State law requires all similar lots be valued similarly.  And applying the discount on a selective basis obviously discriminates against other homeowners who are having their land valued at the appropriate, non-discounted value.

So a bunch of Scarborough property owners realized that they were paying full freight when a select few were getting a bargain rate and challenged the Town’s illegal and discriminatory valuation practice.

We don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the legal wrangling and various court cases that have been swirling around this issue for the past 2-3 years.  But here’s the payoff:  The courts have determined the Town’s discounted lot practice was illegal and the Town has had to refund some of the suing homeowners’ taxes.  Here’s the tab that we taxpayers have picked up so far:

Unfortunately, the above amounts may be only the beginning of the total that Scarborough taxpayers will ultimately pay for this assessing fiasco.  In December, 2017, the court essentially said that the $395,000 awarded to the suing homeowners so far was not appropriate compensation for the discrimination they experienced.  The suing homeowners have suggested that “fair” compensation for the assessment discrimination is another $1.2 million or more (plus interest).  And, of course, the Town’s legal fees continue to mount.  So don’t be surprised when the budget discussion for FY19 includes a substantial amount for a “tax abatement allowance” or similarly innocuously described item.

So that’s the gist of the sad tale.  Of course, there’s much more to it – like how this could possibly happen, who was responsible, was anyone held accountable and what’s being done to prevent similar costly problems going forward?  (You can probably guess the answer to at least one of those questions.)  We’ll get into those matters in a subsequent blog… unless there’s a great outcry of “please, no more assessing stories!”

 

Pine Point Beachfront Lot – Yours for a Song 

(Well, not YOURS…)

You may recall, back in May, 2017 we reported on the Town’s proposed giveaway of Avenue 2 at Pine Point.  (Here’s the link to that blog.)  This is the one where a developer is claiming he owns half of Avenue 2, which is a “paper street” leading to Pine Point Beach.  Avenue 2 has been used by the public as a path to the beach for generations.  And although public access will still be maintained via a permanent public easement included in this almost-done deal, there’s still reason for public concern, or perhaps even outrage.

First of all, it’s further evidence of the Town’s unwillingness to protect historic public beach access against the lawyered-up acquisitiveness of private interests.  How many bad land deals does the Town need to make at Pine Point before citizens from all parts of the Town stand up and say “enough of this!”?

And taxpayers get a more direct poke in the eye on this particular deal…  The Avenue 2 lot the Town will be handing over to the two abutting property owners is beachfront property about 50 feet wide.  At Pine Point, that means its assessed value would be about $ 1 million.  The deal is that the Town will get a permanent easement of the middle 10 feet of the property to allow continued beach access.  Which leaves 20 feet on each side for the two abutting property owners – Mr. Gendron on one side and the Gables Condos on the other.

The only possible silver lining we could see in this deal was that at least there would be some newly taxable beachfront property assigned to each of the abutters.  If 40 feet of the 50 foot Avenue lot were to become taxable, that would be up to $800,000 of newly taxable property for the Town (or about $13,000 of new tax revenue).  But we were increasingly wary of that benefit occurring when the Town Manager repeatedly refused to answer questions about approximately how much newly taxable assessed value would be added as a result of this deal.

Then the bomb was dropped at the Town Council meeting on December 6:  Due to the easements on the property, what is now Avenue 2 would be classified as “wasteland” for tax assessment purposes after the deal is done.  Yes, in Scarborough we have beachfront wasteland.  We still don’t know if there will be any new assessed value on the former Avenue 2, but we have a feeling that if there is, it’s going to be pretty minimal. Yes, “beachfront wasteland” is a hard concept to wrap your head around.  But this is “Scarborough, Maine – a different kind of town”©.


The Old Cynic’s Corner

Speaking of the assessment legal mess… isn’t it strange that the Town could come up with the totally unbudgeted $471,000 to pay the first installment of the tax rebates and interest out of some never-discussed slush fund (“the overlay account”) and “fund balance” without batting an eye. 

But think back to the waning days of past years’ budget processes – when at the last minute we had to impose the parking meter fee at Higgins Beach ($8,000 of revenue) in order to balance the budget… and we had to eliminate the warming hut at the Town skating rink ($6,000 of expense) in order to balance the budget… and we had to eliminate some of the beach raking at Pine Point ($8,000 of expense) in order to balance the budget.

Yes, those minuscule amounts were all presented as budget-busters.  Compared to the recently made unbudgeted tax abatement payments, they were all obviously chump changeAnd we, fellow taxpayers, were the chumps.   Let’s not let that happen again.


COMING SOON

Well, that’s all for now.  Happy trails to you until we meet again!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah